The United States is clearing the way for driverless cars

DETROIT – Federal vehicle safety regulators have cleared the way for the production and deployment of driverless vehicles that do not include manual controls such as the steering wheel or pedals.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday issued final regulations abolishing the requirement that cars with automated control systems or cars include these conventional controls.

The 155-page, “first-of-its-kind” ordinance allows companies to build and deploy autonomous vehicles without manual control as long as they comply with other safety regulations. Modern vehicles operating in small quantities in the U.S. typically include manual controls for backup safety drivers and meet federal safety standards.

“Throughout the 2020s, an important part of USDOT’s safety mission will be to ensure safety standards keep pace with the development of automated driver and driver assistance systems,” said Transport Minister Pete Buttigig in a statement. “This new rule is an important step in setting robust safety standards for vehicles equipped with ADS.”

Kyle Vogt, co-founder, president and chief technology officer of Cruise Automation Inc., says when he stands next to the electric cruiser Origin at the opening of the event in San Francisco, California, USA, on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.

David Paul Morris Bloomberg | Getty Images

The new rule emphasizes that cars without a driver “must continue to provide the same high level of protection for passengers as current passenger vehicles.” Companies must continue to meet other safety standards, as well as federal, state and local regulations, to actually run and operate duty-free vehicles on U.S. roads.

In a published version of the rule, signed by NHTSA Deputy Administrator Stephen C. Cliff, the agency wrote that it “sought to clarify that a manufacturer of vehicles equipped with ADS should continue to apply passenger protection standards to its vehicles, even if manually. management ”.

The decision, which was first proposed in March 2020, came a month after General Motors and its Cruise division asked NHTSA for permission to build and deploy a self-driving car without manual control called the Cruise Origin.

GM and Cruise have previously said they plan to begin production and deployment of Origin in early 2023.

According to NHTSA, GM and Cruise are among about 30 companies or organizations that are allowed to test highly automated or self-driving cars on U.S. roads. The companies, along with Waymo from Alphabet, are considered to be among the leaders in self-driving vehicles.

At an event dedicated to Autonomy Day 2019, Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised that his company would deliver a car without a steering wheel within two years.

Although that hasn’t happened yet, at the time Musk said, “Once regulators realize we don’t have a steering wheel, we’ll just remove it. The probability that the steering wheel will be taken away is 100%. “

– CNBC Laura Deck contributed to this report.

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